Baseball is a unique sport filled with situations that you may only see once every few years, if at all. Umpires must be prepared to rule on these situations in real time, but we have our own expert to rely upon. Brandon Magee explains what the rules call for when Kolten Wong hits a balk home run.
Baseball has been America’s national pastime for well over a century and a half. Yet it still provides long-time spectators events that they have never seen before – or will again. As baseball fans, we are well aware of the written and unwritten rules that govern the game. But, can a balk be balked at by the batter?
In a game against the St. Louis, Milwaukee Brewers’ starter Junior Guerra delivers a pitch to Cardinals second baseman Kolten Wong. As the pitch is on the way to its destination, home plate umpire Gerry Davis signals and announces “That’s a balk.” Wong, undeterred, swings at the pitch and deposits it over the outfield wall and into the Cardinals’ bullpen.
While there are numerous reasons why a balk can be called per the MLB Rule Book – a baker’s dozen, to be exact – in this instance, we don’t care why Guerra was called for the balk. Our only question, can the batter ignore the call? 6.02(a) discusses balks and their penalty:
PENALTY: The ball is dead, and each runner shall advance one base without liability to be put out, unless the batter reaches first on a hit, an error, a base on balls, a hit batter, or otherwise, and all other runners advance at least one base, in which case the play proceeds without reference to the balk.
In this case, the home run trumps the balk call, as the balk is a delayed dead ball call. While in this case, the action is easy (Wong and Jhonny Peralta, who was on first, can trot all the way home), the rule book has an approved ruling for a different type of case:
APPROVED RULING : In cases where a pitcher balks and throws wild, either to a base or to home plate, a runner or runners may advance beyond the base to which he is entitled at his own risk.
Runners may advance at their own risk, just as we discussed in our article on the infield fly rule. So, on a balk that goes to the backstop, a runner on first is entitled to second. However, he can continue on to third, but is liable to be put out.
But the lesson in all this is: Kolten Wong made the right decision to swing at the pitch. With the balk being called, he could not be put out. He could only get a hit or the balk would be in effect and Peralta would move to second. It was a no-lose situation.